What conversation are you in?
Current media is filled with Nazis in Charlotteville, stories of KKK women, Trump’s ill-willed games and raging debates about racism and white privilige across the globe. In my attempt to find my footing and heart in this climate, let me try to understand the conversation we’re having, and where it lands me, maybe us, locally, here and now, anno August 2017.
How did we get here?
History can be seen from as many vantage points as we are peoples. In one view…
We live in a world built on subjugation, slavery,
genocides and (natural resource) exploitations.
These Human traits of seeking and shaping hierarchies of superiority, segregation and separation exist inside and between nations, tribes and people of all races, colors, kin. It exists subtly within any relationship — be it between lovers, friends, in family structures, in schools, companies, religious sects, gangs, castes, communities, interest groups, political parties, prisons, between those who make and those who criticize, predators and prey. It’s everywhere I turn my head.
Greed, power, opportunity, survival, territory, fear, insecurity and self-identification against the ‘other’ are all facets of this relational equation, we cannot seem to avoid nor exist without.
Some of us benefit from what’s been created in our world more than others.
Ironic or just more complicated: in every country I have traveled and lived and visited friends, I see the same internal exploitation, segregation and tendency towards hierarchy — from Indonesia, to Nepal, to Denmark, to America. Rich and poor. In power without power. Tribe against tribe. Region against region. Religion against religion. Gender against gender. Those proclaiming “in the know”, those clearly not.
We all seem to seek polarity and position to define
ourselves, to fight for position, value, and reason to exist.
Yes. I’m white. I’ve benefit tremendously from being born in Denmark. It’s allowed me education, to see of myself as a more (better?) social-democratic humanitarian and afforded me the ability to travel and work around the world. It’s let me live a materialistic and, perhaps, more naive life, unable to fully comprehend violence, extreme greed, even extreme wealth.
Does it make me bad? Complicit? Compliant? How do I unpack my whiteness? I begin by asking: What do I know?
For instance, I’ve lived in America for a long time and felt the unease between white and black Americans and I’ve observed hate amongst the black themselves in American and during travels in Africa, but I’m keenly aware that without a real, personal reference or experience that lets me “know,” I cannot comprehend the roots of this tension, let alone how it lives inside, and what I truly can do to shift it.
I’ve lived in Nepal and been a development associate there to help strengthen local community organizations, but I have no idea what it’s like be an untouchable, a daughter sold for slavery so her family can survive or a woman married to an upper caste man. Despite its unjust systems and severe poverty, I love Nepal, and yet, the workings of this culture isn’t inside me, so I don’t know what buttons to press and wires to adjust to truly better their situation.
Having an opinion about race, privilege and power is different than having the experience. Rationalizing, analyzing and making up your mind about a situation, idea or ideal is different from ‘knowing it’ in your body & soul.
Opinion is not experience
What I do know is, what it’s like to grow up in patriarchal Danish society and family and what it’s like to grow up in the wake of the feminist upheaval in the 60s, and come of age in the 80s and 90s overtly masculine “put-on-your-shoulder-pads and go-forge-your-own-success” mentality. I know what it’s like to both benefit from, but also suffocate in the arms of an overly regulative and controlling welfare state. I know what it’s like to “look” like a success by success criteria that are not mine, let alone realized.
I know what it’s like to grow up with a strong desire
to know what it means to be a liberated woman.
I also know what it is like to grow up with a nuclear disaster nearby. I know what it’s like to grow up with the Hitler/nazi memories very alive and present in our awareness. And what it was like when the Berlin Wall fell and freedom swept across lands. I know what it was like then, before internet and mobile phones, to travel freely in a world that felt safe and benevolent.
I know what it is like — in lieu of my global life — to constantly be forced to shift and expand perspective, and have my view, righteousnesses, prejudices, superiority feelings, know-betters shattered and unraveled.
In my meeting with Asian cultures, I know what its like to be self-conscious about my whiteness, and be seen as dirty blond Scandinavian woman. And from my American life, I know what it’s like to feel at odds with the country’s deep-rooted individualism, when my own roots taught me to think we before me (albeit, it’s not like that in Denmark anymore).
I know what it is like to touch the skin of men of all colors.
I know what it is like to navigate the terrain of love, sex, intimacy, power, justice, values, language and perception in relationship to men, and women, oftentimes across cultures, and how difficult it can be to find common ground, let alone enough trust to share your innermost self with all your flaws, hangups, insecurities and magical thinking.
My lineage is traditional Danish, and yet, our family today have become a multi-cultural family and I know what it’s like to meet for Christmas and enjoy meals and conversations in Danish, American, Thai, Indonesian and “bondsk”. I know what it is like on daily basis to navigate our different beliefs, cultural backdrops and preferences, and seek little threads of commonality, and when we fall short, just hilarity.
This world IS me. Everything I have become is because of my intimate exploration and encounters with this world and “the ‘other.’”
With my own awakening and maturing, I have also come know what it is like to be white and western and caught in a mindset and value system that commodifies all things sacred to me and works against everything I treasure and have come to know about LIFE and the forces of nature.
Caretakers of life
I don’t want the fear to benefit from and destroy my love of this world and its tremendous diversity of people, places, languages, multi-species and many treasures of beauty and experience. Exactly THIS is what makes us who are. Without this, we’re nobody. Nothing. Nada. Think about it. To the root of it. Who are you without the other?
There are many things I don’t understand about you, or them, or what you go through, but I don’t want to fight because of that divide, I would rather try to bridge the divide.
I don’t want to hear your random opinion and spend my time on social media in inconsequential mudslinging and hate-spewing. It’s wasteful use of time and the energy we otherwise need to care for our world and each other. We are here to care for life.
So before we enter into the conversation about race, privilege and power, let us ask ourselves again: What do I know? What don’t I know? What are my explicit and implicit references?
Thanks for reading thus far. This is of course no answer to the big challenges of our times, where racism, tribalism, greed and eco-collapse are setting the public agenda and looming above and beyond our sense of safety and sanity. But it’s a beginning to unravel those places in me that are blind, may jump to conclusions, take sides, or come up with grand sweeping statements and solutions to this ancient dilemma and drama.
I am aware of my shortcomings
Short-term, I don’t think there is one solution available. We can’t eradicate these human traits in ourselves and between us or for that matter delete all -isms overnight. But we can meet the great divides in ways that doesn’t foster more of same. We can break down divisions in ourselves and our local lives. We can show up for another conversation.
So, what if we start here:
- we begin to educate ourselves and acknowledge the different paths we’ve taken to get to here, including the history of blood, sweat and tears that paved the way.
- we acknowledge the greed and ego drive for position and survival that lives at the root of all of us, and express in more or less blind and violent ways.
- we acknowledge the fear, insecurity, unworthiness and needs we all carry for sustenance and love and validation.
- we require and move towards diversity, equality, inclusiveness where we are.
- we go beyond the current language that makes us fight and misperceive, and seek new ground and perspective to have this conversation with those around us?
- we engage in the process of inquiry together, eye to eye, heart to heart, not at a distance.
- we release the need to find the end all solution or better-than views, including the desire to seek majority votes of righteousness, but rather allow the inquiry itself to nurture us and find our hearts together.
What if we start close in, with nothing to defend?
This is the conversation I want to partake in. What about you? What conversation are you in? What conversation do you want to have?